On February 21, the Jerome family of New Rochelle hosted the leadership of Teach NYS, a program of the Orthodox Union. Maury Litwack, director of state political affairs for the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, introduced Westchester residents to this effort.
Since 2011, Teach Advocacy has been operating state political advocacy programs in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maryland and California, representing 90 percent of the yeshiva day school population in America. The program has helped enable direct allocation of $500 million in government aid for 186,000 children in 450 day schools and yeshivot.
Teach NYS, directed specifically toward New York state funding issues, was founded in 2013 with the goal of combating the tuition crisis through greater government funding and services for children and schools. It is a collaboration led by the OU and includes day schools including SAR, Westchester Day School, Solomon Schechter of Westchester, Westchester Hebrew High, and Westchester Torah Academy, and the Sephardic community. Working as a unified community with a single issue advocacy focus and also hiring lobbyists and strategists, the goal is to combat the inequity that nonpublic schools in New York represent 15 percent of the education population but receive less than 1 percent of the funding. One third of school-age children in New York attend yeshiva day schools.
Litwack says, “Our short-term goals are to maintain the funding we’ve gained so far for nonpublic schools and to rapidly increase the STEM funding in New York. We would also like to work with each and every community to establish serious relationships between their local and state-elected officials and their community around these issues. Our long-term goals are to begin to seriously close the inequities. We would also like to see real voting turnout within our community—we simply don’t vote in big enough numbers.”
Most recently, Teach NYS helped to secure $289 million for nonpublic schools in the 2018 New York state budget, including a record-breaking $40 million for nonpublic school security and the creation of a new reimbursement program for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) instruction. Other states were successful in securing tax credits for scholarship dollars and funds for security, busing, technology and nursing.
Evan Jerome, the host of the evening, emphasized that “Teach NYS is important as the first organized strategic effort by the Jewish community in the state to advocate for additional funding for yeshivas and day schools. The goal is that additional grant money will trickle down to keep scholarship budgets robust and tuition on the affordable side for families. Parents need to make their voices heard to state politicians. Last year, day schools and yeshivas received part of a multi-million-dollar grant to expand STEM resources. This would not have happened without the efforts of Teach NYS.”
Local schools are actively involved. Kevin Shacknofsky, of Westchester Torah Academy’s leadership, advises: “It is important to be involved in Teach NYS due to the tuition crisis in New York Jewish education. Despite the communal outcry since the recession in 2009 and competition from new entrants, the tuition of some legacy schools have continued to grind higher at a scary pace. Tuition affordability is now becoming harder with the higher tax burden New Yorkers are now experiencing from changes in the federal tax law. The current operating model appears to be unsustainable, and lobbying for government assistance is critical to alleviate the crisis.”
Westchester Day School Head of School Rabbi Joshua Lookstein provided a Purim-themed dvar Torah relating Queen Esther’s advocacy to government leadership on behalf of her people. On the morning after this event, Teach NYS leaders met with Rabbi Binyamin Krauss of the SAR Academy.
On March 13, Teach NYS will bring 1,200 students, parents, teachers and lay leaders to Albany to urge New York legislators to increase funding for nonpublic schools. Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo addressed the Teach NYS group and pledged his support. They will highlight the inequity in New York’s education system for nonpublic school students. Registration is available on their website, www.TeachAdvocacy.org/AlbanyMission.
By Judy Berger